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April 25, 2012
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M6 demonstrates power of non-linear and multi-screen

Half of all the content viewed on M6 Replay and W9 Replay, the catch-up TV services from French broadcaster Groupe M6, is now on a television screen. A few years ago, around three-quarters of the viewing was on a PC. The vast majority of this TV consumption comes via the French IPTV platforms like Free, Orange and SFR, which between them put the M6 catch-up services into eight million homes. Connected TV, which includes the Sony Smart TV platform and Xbox 360, accounts for the rest, although these devices are making a growing contribution. M6, which is part of the RTL Group, is adding Samsung Smart TVs to its list of connected devices in May.

The remainder of the catch-up viewing is via the PC (35%) and smartphones/tablets (15%). The catch-up services achieve around 50 million viewers per month so that means 7.5 million views are now on mobile/portable devices. Of these, 5 million are on the Apple iPad, once again demonstrating the popularity of this device for watching video. “Given the relatively low number of iPads deployed, it is having a massive impact,” Christian Bombrun, Deputy General Manager, Web, at M6, comments.

There are two peaks for tablet viewing of the catch-up TV services: around 6pm and 11pm. When it comes to viewing on television sets, the peak coincides with primetime on broadcast television. Across all screens, the vast majority of the catch-up consumption is within two days of the original broadcast. “There are differences in when catch-up content is consumed, according to device, but when you take it all together it is a case of ‘job done’ after two days,” Bombrun reports.

The strategy for M6 is to make its content available on as many devices as possible and it is proving to be a pioneer for multi-screen viewing. The broadcaster’s app has been downloaded to three million smartphones in France and M6 was the first free French channel to be available via a games console following its launch on Xbox 360 last December.

The catch-up services reflect M6’s strong belief in the non-linear consumption model. “We see the consumer demand for non-linear professional content and our strategy is to address that demand before anyone else, like the new Internet players, can,” Bombrun explains. “It is wrong to talk about a shift to non-linear viewing because traditional linear TV is not declining, and in fact has been rising for three years here. People were watching an extra 10 minutes [per week] of linear TV in France last year compared to 2010. But the demand for non-linear is growing as well.”

Non-linear is also being used as a way to diversify the business. Catch-up TV is helping to sell additional advertising beyond the linear broadcasts, but the time-shifted content is only available free to viewers for a seven day window after broadcast. After that it moves into a subscription VOD window where, for EUR 7.99 per month, viewers can continue to access the content in the ‘Pass M6’ service. All paid content is through this single subscription; there are no Pay Per View transactions.

Notably, the SVOD offer includes major U.S. TV series that do not appear on the linear channels until a year after their U.S. broadcast. Within Pass M6 these programmes are made available just one day after they are aired in the States as non-linear content with official subtitles (but no dubbing). These shows are then available for several weeks before they disappear again, to return on the M6 and W9 linear channels in another 11 months time. The programmes involved are those for which M6 also has linear broadcast rights.

Bombrun points out that M6 is not in the library content business. There are no ambitions to create a long-tail catalogue and compete with companies like Netflix using the SVOD service. He says the best comparison for what the company is doing is Hulu (for the free catch-up) and Hulu Plus (for the paid content). He does not rule out expanding the SVOD catalogue later, but the current strategy is to deliver premium content with early availability.

The U.S. studios have been supportive. Pass M6 is helping to reduce piracy, which is a problem for hit shows from across the Atlantic given the long delay before free-to-air linear broadcasting. As Bombrun points out, fans of the series want the new episode as soon after it first airs as possible. Given a one-day delay, the SVOD service provides the opportunity for legitimate viewing and feeds some revenue back to the content owners.

“We are not putting all our eggs in one basket,” he says of the business model generally. “We are primarily an advertising based company and will remain so. Our main focus is to grow advertising revenue through our audiences and what we have done with catch-up TV will help to generate some additional advertising revenues in the long-term. In addition, we want to be in the non-linear pay business, like we are for linear TV.”

Christian Bombrun is speaking at the Connected TV Summit next week.